GSN Alert: Cocktail & Spirits Book Preview – Winter 2021

GSN presents our quarterly seasonal roundup of recommend spiritous books. If you’re beginning Dry January, you will find some ideas here, as well as some that call for fresh springtime ingredients from the garden, along with some foodstuffs from iconic Brooklyn bars (that hopefully will still be in business after the pandemic ends). Enjoy!

The Low-Proof Happy Hour: Real Cocktails Without the Hangover by Jules Aron Countryman Press (January 5, 2021) If your cocktail hour usually includes a martini or a manhattan, you may equate lower alcohol options with a dreaded light beer. But it doesn’t need to be that way! In this revolutionary new book, Jules Aron reveals the secret behind low-proof libations that satisfy all your senses without knocking you off your feet. By building your drinks with a delicious array of lower-proof alcohols, such as amari, sherry, herbal liqueurs, and shochu, you’ll balance out the high-proof components like gin and tequila. These tricks can also apply to traditionally lighter drinks, too. Aron embraces garden-to-glass trends with spice-infused vodka, sweet-and-sour shrubs, and other, more health-conscious drinks.

Zero Proof Drinks and More: 100 Recipes for Mocktails and Low-Alcohol Cocktails by Maureen Petrosky Robert Rose (January 15, 2021) Zero Proof Drinks and More offers delicious and mindful drinks for every guest and every occasion. Maureen Petrosky, an Entertaining and Lifestyle Expert who appears regularly on NBC’s Today Show and hosts multiple video series on, shares over 100 no-alcohol and low-alcohol recipes for cocktails, spritzers, ciders, coffees, shandys and radlers, and a whole lot more. 52 percent of Americans who drink alcohol report that they are actively trying to cut back. The choice for no- and low-alcohol drinking is as individual as the drinks themselves: health concerns; calorie reduction; religion; cultural trends; pregnancy… Zero Proof Drinks and More has the perfect flavor for every palate along with easy tips and tricks for creating the perfect on trend drink. Mindful drinking is no longer relegated to Dry January — this is now a year-round trend.

Distilling Whiskey: Your DIY Guide to Producing, Aging and Tasting Whisky & Bourbon by Wade Westbay Green (January 30, 2021) This comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about distilling, from mashing your rye to fermentation and stills to aging ‘the water of life’. Become a craftsman and impress your friends’ taste buds. The book covers every step from picking ingredients to tasting and even mixing your self-made whiskey. Crafting your own Whiskey will save you tons of money, allow you to experiment with the best flavors, and get you gallons of gold. Learn how to make the perfect whiskey from Wade Westbay, an experienced distiller based in Minnesota. With this book, he brings over 12 years of distilling experience right to your hands. Get to know the insider secrets of crafting whiskey with just one click. This book covers every step along the way of both the process and after in detail. Understand what is happening in the still, the barrel, and how a perfect whiskey triggers your taste buds. Get inspired, creative, and make your own. Step into the art of distilling that will teach you a respected and sought-after skill set.

Gin O’clock: A Year of Ginspiration by Craft Gin Club HarperCollins (February 2, 2021) Whether you are a gin aficionado or simply gin-curious, this book from the experts at Craft Gin Club contains everything you’ll ever need to know about the juniper spirit. With recipes for refreshing ice-cold punches through to warming winter serves, marinated main courses to delicious desserts, Gin O’Clock proves it’s always a good time for gin, no matter the season. Packed with tips including: Hosting the perfect gin-tasting, Growing your own garnishes, Making simple syrups, and Creating your own gin truffles.

The Wildcrafted Cocktail: Make Your Own Foraged Syrups, Bitters, Infusions, and Garnishes; Includes Recipes for 45 One-of-a-Kind Mixed Drinks by Ellen Zachos Storey Publishing, LLC (February 16, 2021) Meet the natural lovechild of the popular local-foods movement and craft cocktail scene. It’s here to show you just how easy it is to make delicious, one-of-a-kind mixed drinks with common flowers, berries, roots, and leaves that you can find along roadsides or in your backyard. Foraging expert Ellen Zachos gets the party started with recipes for more than 50 garnishes, syrups, infusions, juices, and bitters, including Quick Pickled Daylily Buds, Rose Hip Syrup, and Chanterelle-infused Rum. You’ll then incorporate your handcrafted components into 45 surprising and delightful cocktails, such as Stinger in the Rye, Don’t Sass Me, and Tree-tini.

Cocktails, Mocktails, and Garnishes from the Garden: Recipes for Beautiful Beverages with a Botanical Twist (Unique Craft Cocktails) by Katie Stryjewski Yellow Pear Press (February 16, 2021) Step inside a bartender’s apothecary, forage for garnishes, and craft some of the most popular cocktails, mocktails, and beverages. This beautifully photographed compendium of craft cocktails includes examples of garnishes and interesting ingredients to give any drink a botanical twist. Creating your very own herb bar and garnish garden for craft cocktails. A cocktail recipe book from the wild; Cocktails, Mocktails and Garnishes from the Garden features examples of garnishes and general know-how. With a reference guide of herbal and floral flavors that complement different spirits, and details about what to plant and how to grow your very own herb bar, readers craft cocktail recipes alongside nature.

American Cider: A Modern Guide to a Historic Beverage by Dan Pucci & Craig Cavallo Ballantine Books (March 2, 2021) Cider today runs the gamut from sweet to dry, smooth to funky, made from apples and sometimes joined by other fruits—and even hopped like beer. In American Cider, aficionados Dan Pucci and Craig Cavallo give a new wave of consumers the tools to taste, talk about, and choose their ciders, along with stories of the many local heroes saving apple culture and producing new varieties. Like wine made from well-known grapes, ciders differ based on the apples they’re made from and where and how those apples were grown. Combining the tasting tools of wine and beer, the authors illuminate the possibilities of this light, flavorful, naturally gluten-free beverage. And cider is more than just its taste—it’s also historical, as the nation’s first popular alcoholic beverage, made from apples brought across the Atlantic from England. Pucci and Cavallo use a region-by-region approach to illustrate how cider and the apples that make it came to be, from the well-known tale of Johnny Appleseed—which isn’t quite what we thought—to the more surprising effects of industrial development and government policies that benefited white men. American Cider is a guide to enjoying cider, but even more so, it is a guide to being part of a community of consumers, farmers, and fermenters making the nation’s oldest beverage its newest must-try drink.

Brooklyn Bar Bites: Great Dishes and Cocktails from New York’s Food Mecca by Barbara Scott-Goodman & Jennifer May Rizzoli Universe Promotional Books (March 9, 2021) Brooklyn continues to be a food mecca known for its innovative restaurants and bars, drawing tourists and locals alike. Although several cookbooks have featured Brooklyn eateries, none have focused exclusively on the innovative bar scene. Food writer Barbara Scott-Goodman discovers amazing spots in her hometown of Brooklyn and presents their unique recipes for serving creative cocktails and artisanal beers, accompanied by small dishes. In this informative cookbook, well-known food writer Scott-Goodman celebrates Brooklyn’s happening bar culture–from the mixologists who craft classic and original cocktails, to the talented chefs who create delicious dishes made with fresh-from-the-market ingredients to accompany the drinks. Featured are over 110 recipes for cocktails, delectable snacks, sandwiches, and small plates. Their range of flavors is vast and extremely appealing for today’s urbane palate.

Negroni: More than 30 classic and modern recipes for Italy’s iconic cocktail by David T Smith & Keli Rivers Ryland Peters & Small (March 9, 2021) The Negroni has been a favorite with discerning cocktail drinkers for over a century but has perhaps never been as popular as it is today. What started off as a simple, equal-parts, three-ingredient cocktail (campari, gin, vermouth) has become a global sensation. Included here are recipes for classic Negronis from straight-up over ice to a sparkling aperitivo spritz. This basic formula is then played with in endless ways with Negronis designed for different seasons; bright and citrusy summer versions; cozier, spiced winter drinks; and celebratory cocktails for special occasions. These exciting variations make use of both dry, sweet, and aged vermouths, along with ports and sherries, and some truly experimental non-gin negronis (made using bourbon, rum or even mezcal) really open up the playing field.

Schumann’s Whisk(e)y Lexicon by Stefan Gabányi Rizzoli (March 16, 2021) A completely updated new edition of the classic guide to the whiskeys of the world by the whiskey expert from Charles Schumann’s famed Schumann’s bar in Munich. Featuring over a thousand entries, this handbook discusses the world’s leading and lesser-known whiskeys, making it an ideal source for the aficionado and the budding novice alike. Every traditional type of whiskey is included: Scotch single malt, blends, vatted malts, single grains, and Irish, as well as those from the new world (bourbon, rye, and Canadian). The book also takes a serious look at trendy new whiskeys emerging from Japan and continental Europe and explores how unique flavors are created through variations of ingredients, distilling techniques, and aging. Organized alphabetically in the style of a dictionary, the volume is rounded out with additional advice on serving, collecting, and storage. Every manner and nuance of whiskey is discussed between the book’s elegant covers.

Cocktails of the Movies: An Illustrated Guide to Cinematic Mixology New Expanded Edition by Will Francis & Stacey Marsh Prestel; Illustrated edition (March 16, 2021) Now available in a new expanded and updated edition, Cocktails of the Movies serves up the 72 greatest cocktails to have featured on film. Take a journey through Hollywood’s lifelong love affair with cocktails, celebrating the greatest characters and their iconic drinks through original illustrations and easy-to-follow recipes. From Marilyn’s Manhattan in Some Like It Hot to The Dude’s White Russian in The Big Lebowski, there’s something for everyone. Each cocktail is accompanied by the recipe, method, a history of the drink and a synopsis of its scene in the movie alongside full-color original artwork.

The Infused Cocktail Handbook: The Essential Guide to Homemade Blends and Infusions by Kurt Maitland Cider Mill Press (March 16, 2021) Pump up the flavors of spirits and mixers with The Infused Cocktail Handbook, the essential guide to homemade blends and infusions. The illustrated recipes explain which ingredients go best when infusing vodka, gin, tequila, whiskey, rum, and sherry and cover a range of globetrotting flavor profiles, from Earl Gray tea to lemongrass, cardamom, and walnuts, as well as gummy bears and bacon. With The Infused Cocktail Handbook not only will you know how to make your very own signature cocktails, you’ll save money doing it.

Tokyo Cocktails: An Elegant Collection of Over 100 Recipes Inspired by the Eastern Capital by Nicholas Coldicott Cider Mill Press (March 30, 2021) With over 13.5 million residents squeezed in to 845 square miles, Tokyo stands as one of the world’s most beguiling cities. On the surface it appears to be nothing but towering buildings and glaring lights. But once you get to know the city, its 23 wards reveal hidden alleyways, along many of which you can find singular drinking establishments. Tokyo Cocktails takes you inside the city’s best bars and introduces you to bartenders and mixologists conjuring up drinks that reflect the city’s essence, namely how thousands of years of tradition fuse with myriad contemporary influences. Featuring over 100 recipes that honor and reinvent classics and make the best of local ingredients, this book is the ideal cocktail enthusiast’s guide to drinking like a local, whether you’re making a trip to Tokyo or staying at home and simply wishing you were there.

The Artisanal Kitchen: Summer Cocktails: Refreshing Margaritas, Mimosas, and Daiquiris―and the World’s Best Gin and Tonic by Nick Mautone Artisan (March 30, 2021) Summer Cocktails is the newest addition to the Artisanal Kitchen series, adapted from Raising the Bar (Artisan, 2004) by master mixologist Nick Mautone. This is a handy guide to summer beverages, with information on everything from how to mix the perfect cocktails, prep drinks ahead of time, and choose the proper drinkware to how to use sorbet ice cubes for a burst of flavor and how to turn cocktails into punches for a larger crowd. It’s packed with easy‑to‑follow recipes for warm-weather favorites, including the mimosa and Tom Collins, as well as classics with a twist (think Pineapple Slings), icy drinks (Frozen Mango Smash), nonalcoholic options (Faux Margaritas), and so much more. Both home and professional mixologists can rely on the book for fail-proof cocktails recipes and will return to Summer Cocktails year after year for seasonal favorites.


GSN Review: El Guapo Bitters & Tonic Syrup

1373647549My cocktailian home away from home is New Orleans.  So much about the city has to do with cocktail history that it just makes sense that a new company specializing in bitters and syrups has established itself there.  El Guapo started out as a supplier for a local bar in the Vieux Carré, saw the potential to reach a wider audience and grew from there.  Interestingly, the owner Scot Mattox (an ex-Marine) named the company after his military nickname which literally means “handsome”.  He also donates 10% of their revenue to the Semper Fi Fund and the Wounded Warrior Project.  Definitely two worthwhile causes, and another reason to support the company.

Chicory-Pecan Bitters – First of all, the scent of these bitters is extremely appetizing.  It encapsulates New Orleans in every way.  Loose, flavorful and vivacious.  The flavor is much milder than I expected, resembling a cup of coffee at Cafe Du Monde.  It definitely pushes a coffee/chicory blend with a warm richness to it.  The main issue I have is that there is NO alcohol in these bitters.  This may seem like a small thing, but virtually all bitters are in a neutral alcohol base which allows the flavors to be intensified.  I’m not sure that these will lend much more than a hint of the intended flavor when they become diluted in a cocktail.  That being said, you can certainly add some grain spirit to these at home and come to a compromise.  These definitely have potential as some of the best smelling and tasting coffee based bitters I’ve tried.  GSN Rating: B-

British Colonial Style Tonic Syrup – An opaque reddish-brown.  Quite tart with a lot of citrus that seems to outshine the typical bitterness of the quinine.  You won’t need to add a squeeze of lime to your drink with this syrup.  The flavor is well-balanced and quite bright.  It works very well with a standard London Dry style gin.  More juniper driven gins will also benefit from this style of tonic syrup, whereas gins with less character will have to take a back seat.  I like this a lot, very easy to drink. I suggest using a ratio of 0.75 oz. syrup/2 oz. gin/4 oz. carbonated water.  GSN Rating: B+

For more information go to: El Guapo Bitters

GSN Review: Hella Bitters

l_153276hbbundlepackHella Bitters based in Brooklyn, NY has one goal in mind.  They “want to change the way people think about their beverages.”  Intentionality and craftsmanship are evident in their two bitters.  Started as a hobby on the west coast by three friends, and initially funded by a Kickstarter campaign, they are now firmly established in the rapidly growing community of bitters manufacturers in NYCBut, you won’t find a location called Hella anywhere within the five boroughs.  Hella is bay area, California slang for “very”.  Hella clever.

Hella Bitter Citrus – The citrus flavor supports a more dominant herb and spice portfolio.  These are quite tasty and will liven up just about any spirit.  There’s a fresh, almost gastronomical flavor that is somewhat sweeter than many orange bitters.  As a side note, the hole in the dropper bottle is extremely small, so you may have to shake it a few times to equal the amount of bitters you would normally get from other manufacturers.  GSN Rating: A-

Hella Bitter Aromatic – Molasses notes along with cinnamon seem to be the headliners here. After a while, there seems to be an almost root beer overtone. Very well balanced and intense, perfect for dark rum along with bourbon and rye whisky cocktails.  Tasty and quite well done.  GSN Rating: A

For more information about Hella Bitters click here.

GSN Review: Cocktail Kingdom Bitters

imagesIf you still live under a rock somewhere, then you probably haven’t heard of Cocktail Kingdom. Purveyors of ultra high quality barware, replicas of rare cocktail manuals, bitters and syrups; they have now launched their own line of cocktail bitters.  The falernum bitters were crafted in conjunction with Blair “Trader Tiki” Reynolds, while the wormwood bitter recipe was spearheaded by SeanMike Whipkey from the Scofflaw’s Den website.

177995-cocktail-kingdom-falernum-B1Barrel Aged Falernum Bitters – Falernum is one of those flavors that rarely makes an appearance outside of tiki and faux tropical drinks.  However, that doesn’t mean that it’s inappropriate in let’s say, a rum old-fashioned, vodka martini, or even a margarita.  The thing about traditional falernum is that it combines flavors that are sour, nutty and spicy in a highly sweetened base.  The Cocktail Kingdom bitters take away the sugar and leave you with nothing but the basics.  The initial taste is of bitter and sour lime, along with just the slightest hint of almond.  But, the real killer here is the clove.  It just nails it, and adds the perfect touch of intrigue.  These bitters fill a gap in the field.  GSN Rating: A+


177994-cocktail-kingdon-wormwood-B1Wormwood Bitters – At first, the thought of ingesting wormwood seems counter-intuitive.  Yet, there is a historical precedent for these.  When absinthe was illegal, a few drops of wormwood bitters added to an anise flavored liqueur would approximate the flavor of absinthe.  Wormwood is known to be one of the bitterest plants on the earth, so it makes sense that it would tone down the relative sweetness of a liqueur.  These bitters are intensely bitter in conjunction with an amazing load of peppery spice.  Try these in a Sazerac (along with Peychaud’s) and see what happens.  These will also add an interesting twist to lighter style whiskies from Ireland and Canada in cocktails.    GSN Rating: B+

For more information about Cocktail Kingdom go here.

GSN Review: The Bitter Truth Bitters & Flower Waters

PrintGermany’s The Bitter Truth Company began with just two products; an Orange Bitters and an Old Time Aromatic Bitters.  At the time, very few bars carried anything other than Angostura Bitters, and even then there was only an aromatic version (they now also make orange bitters, due in part I believe to the success of entrepreneurs like The Bitter Truth).  But, that’s all in the not so distant past, as The Bitter Truth now carries a full range of bitters.  They may not cure all, but they certainly make a lovely and welcome addition to your bar’s cocktail arsenal.

Here are my reviews of some of their latest bitters, and two flower waters.  A previous GSN review of their other bitters is here.

111245-Bitters-The-Bitter-Truth-Peach-Bitters-20cl-800x1200Peach Bitters – Intensely peach forward with a sour tang that adds just the right amount of acidity and depth.  There seems to be an assortment of baking spices as well that linger in the back of the throat.  These make quite an interesting alternative to orange bitters, and work wonders with bourbon, rye and gin based cocktails.
GSN Rating: A


Grapefruit-Bitters-USAGrapefruit Bitters – Quite bitter with a lot of pith character more than grapefruit juice.  Very dry and intense.  Not much is needed to add a sharp and noticeable edge to a cocktail.  I wish there was more of a fruit flavor in here.  That being said, these work well with vodka, blanco tequila and even light rums to bring out a more intriguing character in each of these spirits when used in cocktails.
GSN Rating: B-


Tonic-BittersThomas Henry Tonic Bitters – The flavor of quinoa bark is pronounced along with several citrus botanicals.  The overall effect is quite intriguing, with a wide spectrum of flavors that percolate over the tongue.  I quite like these as a more apothecarian alternative to other citrus fruit based bitters.  An extra dash or two of these in a G&T will lessen the sweetness of the tonic, and in a martini, they shine.  Get a bottle while you can!
GSN Rating: A+

the-bitter-truth-orange-flower-waterOrange Flower Water – There aren’t too many orange flower waters available in my part of the world, but I have three to compare with.  The Bitter Truth’s version is amazingly floral and flavorful.  Really the best I’ve every had when tasted side by side with the others in my collection.  The gentle orange quality is remarkably floral and right on the mark in terms of intensity.  Well done!
GSN Rating: A

roseRose Water – Rose is one of those flavors that often gets overlooked in cocktails, and yet fits in with many of the aromatic herbal ingredients we don’t give a second thought to.  Gin, dry vermouth, Chartreuse, Benedictine, and so on.  Not only does the flavor of rise work well with these ingredients, but it also adds real interest to vodka, blanco tequila and champagne.  The version by The Bitter Truth is subtle and yet quite natural.  Just a few drops added to the top of a drink will give it a sultry nose.
GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: The Bitter Truth

GSN Review: The Bitter Truth Spirits & Liqueurs

PrintThe guys at The Bitter Truth are two of the busiest people in the spirits industry.  In just seven years, they have increased their product line to include not only several classic bitters styles, but also spirits, liqueurs and flower waters.  Every bottle feels just right, looks sharp and holds some amazing flavors.  GSN recently received a “care package” which contained samples of their latest offerings.  I in turn, offer my reviews to you dear reader.

gin-the-bitter-truth-pink-ginSpiced Navy Pink Gin (80 proof)
Visual: Delicate rose quartz.
Nose: Light juniper floral scent with subtle overtones of classic aromatic bitters.
Taste: Quite delicate and almost feminine in character.  The juniper is gentle and the bitters add a deeper and darker herbality which plays well with the gin base.  There is a slightly sweet and creamy mouthfeel not unlike Plymouth gin.
Finish: A lively and elegant finish which leaves you wanting more.
Overall: A lovely gin for classic martinis and G&T’s.  Very, very well done.
GSN Rating: A

ElderflowerElderflower Liqueur (44 proof)
Visual: Very light pale yellow.
Nose: Sweet, almost grape-like character.
Taste: Very sweet and fruity.  The elderflower dominates the spirit and sugar base.  The mouthfeel is light and not too thick and syrupy.
Finish: Lasting sweetness with slight spicy notes that add intrigue.
Overall: A great and versatile liqueur that will add wonderful fruity notes to any cocktail.  The essence of summer in a bottle.
GSN Rating: A

FalernumGolden Falernum (36 proof)
Visual: Warm sunny gold.
Nose: Intriguingly fruity like tropical punch with brief high notes of baking spices.
Taste: Quite sweet with a limeade overtone.  The spice plays a role in the background, but grows in strength as time goes on.  The ginger is particularly warming and yet doesn’t add too much heat.  I don’t pick up much in the way of almond.
Finish:  Medium long with a lasting presence of having just eaten key lime pie.
Overall: Definitely a more subtle and refined version of the few alcoholic falernums I’ve had.  Worthy of craft tiki cocktails.
GSN Rating: B+

imagesElixier Digestive Liqueur (60 proof)
Visual: Very dark chocolate-brown.
Nose: Herbal and vegetal, but not unpleasant.
Taste: Slightly bitter, but not to extremes.  There’s a nice balance of sweetness to offset any potential bitter intensity.
Finish: Fairly long with a flavor reminiscent of root beer barrel or horehound candies.
Overall: Very much in keeping with traditional digestives, and one that is infinitely more pleasant to taste than many other German herbal liquors.  No need to chill, unless you so desire.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: The Bitter Truth

GSN Review: Tuthilltown Bitter Frost Basement Bitters

basement-bittersIt makes sense that a distillery would make their own bitters.  After all, the Angostura company has been doing it for almost 200 years, so why not an American craft distiller?  Thus, we finally have bitters crafted by Tuthilltown Distillery located in downstate New York.  Made from unaged rye spirit, sarsaparilla, maple syrup and fourteen other herbs and spices, the bitters also benefit from aging in ex-rye barrels.  Unique and very much in the spirit of Tuthilltown’s other products.

Bitter Frost Basement Bitters (92 proof)
The rye character is a welcome change from most bitters that simply use a neutral flavored spirit.  There is a slightly sweet and spicy essence here that underlies the more herbal and spice driven characteristics.  Notes of cassia bark, allspice, and even sandalwood seem to be here.  Overall, it’s a lighter aromatic bitters than most, but at the same time this allows the individual flavors room to shine in whatever spirit they’re dashed in.  Perfect for Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, these will also find a good home in tropical drinks that call for aromatic bitters.

GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Tuthilltown Spirits

GSN Review: AZ Bitters

5a3db7885f20df69dc304d6223364273The world of bitters has exploded in the past few years, with more and more unique flavors coming on to the scene.  What initially intrigued me about AZ Bitters, is that their company is truly a labor of love.  Started by a husband and wife who explored cocktail culture on the east coast, they eventually settled in Chandler, Arizona where they founded the first bitters company in the state.  Using unusual flavor profiles like fig, rare ingredients like saffron, and a process from beginning to end literally done by hand; they are craftsmen in the truest sense of the word.

They currently have three bitters in their portfolio, which I was sent for review.

Figgy Pudding – Slightly sweet with a definite fig overtone.  Notes of baking spices, richly dense Christmas pudding and even hard sauce, Instantly reminded me of the holidays.  The profile is not overly bitter, but is quite balanced with just enough of an edge to it.  Truly unique and mouthwatering, these bitters are perfect for brown spirits like rum, bourbon and anejo tequilas.    GSN Rating: A

Más Mole – Notes of cocoa quickly give way some some serious heat.  There are three different kinds of dried chiles used in the blend, and it shows.  Despite a lot of warmth in the front of the palate, the cocoa aspect acts as a nice counterbalance and supports the whole shebang.  You will only need a drop or two in a cocktail to notice the difference these will make.  The obvious choice of spirit is tequila, but these also work well in drinks calling for creme de cacao, coffee liqueur or cream-based dessert liqueurs. GSN Rating:  B

Orange Sunshine – Juicy orange almost immediately gives way to a more traditional dry and bitter citrus peel taste.  Quite compact and intense, these are the most traditional bitters in AZ’s line up.  What separates them from the competition is a heavier use of atypical spices like fennel and saffron.  The overall effect is of orange spice cake.  Definitely different from what you’re using now and because of the unusual spice notes, these make a great partner for gin, rye and spiced rums.  GSN Rating:  B

For more information go to: AZ Bitters Lab

Imbibing Mr. Boston: The Bitter, Dark & Stormy Cocktail

IMG_3526-800Basically a bitters enhanced D&S, this is a creation crafted by Ted Henwood.  Here’s what he had to say about it: “My inspiration was the Gaz (Gary Regan), who is all of those and yet quite impish, images of Portuguese seamanship, and my own rage during the demise of my marriage — not to mention a great rum.”

When making this at home, I used Gosling’s dark rum and Regan’s orange bitters.  They add just enough of an edge to make this a more brooding drink.  Good one, Ted.  Hope you’re feeling better now.

The Bitter, Dark & Stormy
2.5oz dark rum
5 dashes orange bitters
ginger beer
Garnish: lime wedge

Pour rum and bitters into ice-filled highball glass.  Top with ginger beer and stir.  Squeeze lime into glass and add wedge.

GSN Review: Scrappy’s Bitters (Part Two)

ScrappysBannerScrappy’s have been a standard of the bitters market for five years now, and they have already carved their niche in the cocktail world. I’ve previously reviewed several of the Scrappy’s Bitters here.  They recently sent me a batch of new flavors, which I’m pleased to review for you.

Grapefruit Bitters – Bright notes of grapefruit flesh turn quickly to citrus peel.  Some slight spices complete the recipe.  Grapefruit is a tough flavor to accurately craft, but these are exceptional.  Use these in tequila, gin and rum cocktails to add an extra sparkle.   GSN Rating: A+

Chocolate Bitters – Milk chocolate with a healthy dose of dry spice.  As with most chocolate bitters, there is a somewhat grainy quality to these, but this will add body and mouthfeel to your cocktail.  Very natural and quite tasty.  Try these with tequila, dark rum and bourbon or rye whiskies.  GSN Rating: A-

Aromatic Bitters – Quite spicy and with a black pepper aire.  Undertones of cinnamon bark play well with the overall spice bill.  Try these with a bacon infused bourbon in a Manhattan or in a Dark & Stormy to give it an extra burst of heat. GSN Rating: A-

Cardamom Bitters – Intense cardamom flavor has an intriguing balance of mint and Indian spice.  Again, a nice balance of flavor as with all of the Scrappy’s line.  These make for an interesting alternative to the flavor found in Peychaud’s Bitters. GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Scrappy’s Bitters

GSN Review: Bittered Sling Bitters

imagesSome of you may already be wondering what a “bittered sling” is.  Actually it’s something that virtually every bartender passes over the bar.  The definition dates back to the early 1800’s and means a drink composed of spirits, sugar, water and bitters; in other words, the cocktail.  So, by definition, the bitters part is pretty important.  In my own bartending experience, I use bitters a lot of the time.  It makes a huge difference in the overall flavor and character of a great cocktail.

Kale & Nori is a Vancouver based company that specializes in the art of food and beverage.  They’ve created their own line of over a dozen bitters, including a few which are only available seasonally.  Not only are their bitters designed for use in cocktails, but also they are created with your health in mind.  The combination of herbs and spices, citrus and vegetables used in each extract is designed to improve everything from circulation and digestion to curing insomnia and poor heart health.  So, next time you toast with a cocktail made with Kale & Nori Bittered Sling Extract, you can truly say, “To your health!”

Moondog Bittered Sling Extract
Visual: Medium Brown
Nose: Dark and earthy with an almost herbal remedy (think Ricola) scent.
Taste: Quite spicy with peppery heat.  There is less of the typical aromatic bitters flavor going on, and more of an intense blast of ginger and woodgrain.
Overall: Very potent, you’ll only need a drop to get the effect.  Works well with dark spirits, especially aged rums and adds spice notes to sweeter bourbons.
GSN Rating: B+

Grapefruit Bittered Sling Extract
Visual: Medium golden-yellow.
Nose: Subtle, with a bright grapefruit highlight.  Makes me think of breakfast.
Taste: Pretty mellow, but with obvious grapefruit oil and pith.  Tasty and balanced with a bit of sweetness.
Overall: The fruit character is carried well here, and in a fresh and balanced way.  Try this instead of orange bitters in your next Martini or Satan’s Whiskers and see what you think.
GSN Rating: A

For more information go to: Kale & Nori

GSN Review: Autumn 2012 Cocktail Guides

Food & Wine Cocktails 2012 by Dana Cowin & Jim Meehan (Food & Wine Books)  Another in the excellent series of annuals published by Food & Wine Magazine.  If you want to get an accurate snapshot of what’s happening in top bars around the U.S., this is the one volume to get.  This year, they’ve revamped the content to an alphabetical list of the classic cocktails that includes several new variations on each by about fifty top mixologists.  Other sections include recipes for party food, and a recommended list of the top 100 American bars.  GSN Rating: A

Cuban Cocktails by Anastasia Miller & Jared Brown (Mixellany)  More than just a follow-up to Anastasia & Jared’s previous volume Cuba: The Legend of Rum, this new book details the development of important Cuban cocktails including the Cuba Libre, Daiquiri, Mojito and Pina Colada.  As with all of their books, there is a lot of research and history here.  But what makes it invaluable are the myriad variations of recipes in chronological order culled from many rare and obscure sources.  As an example there are almost 50 different versions of the Daiquiri from the last 275 years to play around with.  Kudos to the authors for bringing an oft neglected, but quite important segment of cocktailian development to light.  GSN Rating: A-

gaz regan’s 101 Best New Cocktails 2012 (Mixellany)  Literally gaz’s hand-picked choices of cocktails as submitted to him for consideration.  No particular theme or style is represented, but this is rather a compendium of creations from bartenders around the globe.  Each cocktail has a short piece on its creation by the mixologist, along with the recipe and a b&w photo of it.  This makes for a fun sojourn into new realms, which will require you to make more than a few trips to the store to track down obscure spirits and ingredients to make your own infusions and garnishes.  GSN Rating: B

Destination: Cocktails by James Teitelbaum (Santa Monica Press)  If there were one book published this year that made me jealous, it would have to be this one.  James has somehow managed to take the vision and style of travel guides like those published by Fodor’s and Frommer’s and apply it to bar hopping.  And what a long strange trip it is.  Starting with the premise that a bar that has great cocktails is worthy of a visit, he globe hops from New York (arguably the primordial bastion of the great American libation) all the way to far-flung Australia with many stops in between.  Along the way, a picture is painted of how bar-craft and bars themselves have developed over the past few centuries.  Lots of b&w photos grace the pages, along with several of the author’s own cocktail recipes, making this a hefty 400+ page tome.  If you find yourself in one of the over forty major cities, you WILL want to have this book with you to plan your visit.  My only question is, with most of these cocktails ranging in price from $10-20 each, who will foot the bill if I choose to follow his trail.  GSN Rating: A

Traditional Distillation: Art & Passion by Hubert Germain-Robin (White Mule Press)  Not a cocktail book by any means, this is a brief, yet fairly comprehensive look at how to distill grape brandies.  Of particular interest to cocktailians is the section on tasting the finished product.  Understanding what to look for in a spirit, and how to do it, is the next big leap forward in mixology after learning the basics of shaking and stirring.  A very nice selection of full-color period advertisements and alembic still blueprints are included, making this less of a dry treatise and more of an artistic statement on the craft.  The first in a planned series of books, this is a fine start to a promising collection.  GSN Rating: B+

Bitters by Brad Thomas Parsons (Ten Speed Press)  With the endless cocktail books that seem to come out on a weekly basis, it is surprising that there aren’t more volumes on one of the essentials of pre-prohibition drinks.  “Bitters” delivers, and then some.  An up-to-the-minute look at the dozens of new craft bitters on the market, along with a dozen recipes for making your own forms the foundation of this work.  As if this weren’t enough, there is a section on setting up your bar, a lengthy list of classic and new-wave bittered cocktails with gorgeous mouth-watering color photos of the drinks and an intriguing collection of food recipes that call for bitters.  I honestly, cannot recommend this book highly enough, as it is beautifully produced, well written and comprehensive in scope.  GSN Rating: A+

Slushed! by Jessie Cross (Adams Media)  I’ve often thought that frozen alcoholic desserts are an area just begging for further exploration.  “Slushed!” fills the bill handily.  Everything from popsicles, ice cream, gelato, frozen yogurt, mousse, granitas, sorbets, sherbets, and even frozen cakes and ice-cream sandwiches are here with easy to follow directions.  A lot of these will be perfect for the finishing touch to a spirited dinner party, or a lively alternative to the usual over-sweet freezer treats that leave you wishing you hadn’t eaten afterwards.  There are a smattering of color photos, but the real treats are the creative and luscious recipes.  GSN Rating: B+

Never Cook Sober Cookbook by Stacy Laabs & Sherri Field (Adams Media)  As if you needed an excuse to drink from morning until night, here is your justification.  Not a book about drinking while cooking (not recommended), but a book about using spirits and liqueurs in your food; this book starts with a hearty breakfast of everything from tequila eggs to Frangelico French toast, then moves on to a filling lunch of vodka turkey wraps, wine pasta and beer hot dogs, and finally tucking in to a dinner of rum fajitas, gin shrimp and brandy steaks.  If you still have room after all of that, there’s a collection of boozy desserts to cap off the meal.  An interesting drink/food pairing also accompanies each recipe.  Unfortunately, there are no pictures, but if you have a vivid imagination, you can certainly imagine the flavors by reading the recipes out loud.  GSN Rating: B

GSN Review: Bittercube Small Batch, Hand-Crafted Bitters

Bittercube is a relative new-comer to the cocktail market, with their products only having been available to the public for about two years.  Yet, in that short span of time, they’ve garnered praise from everyone from Martha Stewart to Imbibe Magazine.  The business is the brainchild of Nicholas Kosevich and Ira Koplowitz of Milwaukee, WI.  Between them, they have almost fifteen years of successful bartending and restaurant experience.  The key to their craft has been a literal hands-on approach.  Each step of the bitter making process is overseen and measured by hand using only natural, unprocessed raw ingredients.  This care comes through in each of the six products.  Well done, gentlemen!

Taste: Dry and full of exotic spices.  Just enough of a hint of sweetness from the molasses to balance the bitterness. Notes of cinnamon and sarsaparilla give it an old-fashioned root beer quality.
Overall: A great alternative to Angostura bitters.  Balanced and perfect for dark spirits like aged rum, whiskies and as an alternative to Amargo Chuncho bitters.
GSN Rating: A

Taste: Quite bitter with a lot of citrus and dried herbs taking the top notes.  A hint of fruitcake comes out as the initial bitterness fades.
Overall: A perfect addition to gin based cocktails, as well as tequilas.  For a very interesting experiment, try using these in lager and pilsner beer based cocktails.
GSN Rating: B+

Cherry Bark Vanilla
Taste: Light and sweet.  Almost nougat-like with a hint of cherry cordial candy.  There’s a bit of creaminess on the tongue and an impression of cherry Cavendish pipe tobacco.
Overall: Well balanced with a nice blend of cherry, vanilla and chocolate.  Perfect for bourbons, and tiki drinks.
GSN Rating: A-

Jamaican #1
Taste: A surprising minty quality that also contains bitter citrus and a small bit of prickly spice from the ginger and pepper.  Not as subtle as some of the other Bittercube products, this one will make your tastebuds take notice.
Overall: Very nice with dark rum, ginger beer, tea based drinks, and traditional punches.
GSN Rating: A-

Jamaican #2
Taste: A brighter profile with more fruity citrus evident.  Still slightly herbal with a lot of spice towards the back of the palate.  Think a very mild Jamaican jerk sauce.  Somewhat thin, but when used with lighter spirits, it won’t get buried.
Overall: Good for silver rums, vodka, and surprisingly, applejack.  It will bring a touch of character to simpler cocktails that call for two or three ingredients.
GSN Rating: B+

Taste: Quite a bitter profile of burnt orange peel.  There’s a hint of smokiness here which I’ve not had in an orange bitters before.  Certainly less sweet than most as well.  There’s an almost autumnal huskiness to these bitters which will add a touch of dark citrus to any spirit.  If using in a classic gin martini, you won’t need more than a few drops to achieve the desired effect.
Overall: Amidst the plethora of orange bitters available today, these are definitely the driest I’ve had, with virtually no noticeable sweetness.  Great for gin, rye, cola, or Earl Grey based cocktails.
GSN Rating: A-

For more information go to: Bittercube

GSN Review: Bitters, Old Men Bitters & Tonic

Seems like I’ve got a bitter vendetta.  Whenever I hear about a new kind of bitters, I get a collector mentality.  I’ve got to try every one, or my life won’t be complete.  Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating (maybe), but just a few years ago, I was lucky if I could find any bitters other than the one with the over-sized paper label.  Now, it seems, along with craft distilling, craft bitters are the hot new business.

Bitters, Old Men is a New York City company and they’ve already made a name for themselves at such fine establishments as Fatty Johnsons, Empellon and wd-50.  As well, they’ve received positive reviews in the New York Times and even been used on the Martha Stewart Show.  They are nothing, if not ambitious.  Read on to find out my thoughts on their entire product line….

Gangsta Lee’n Bitters – Including bacon, orange peel and smoked almonds.  The bacon is predominant and you can imagine that you just ate a handful of smoked almonds on top of it.  These will work with bourbon or rye quite handily and make for an interesting addition to a Bloody Mary.  GSN Rating: B

Great in ’28 Bitters – No indication of what to expect from these bitters, I can only guess that it refers to the original Boker’s Bitters which were one of the great cocktail products of the 1800’s.  The founder, John G. Boker began producing his product in 1828, and sold millions of bottles until the Volstead act shut him and many other companies down in the 1920’s.  Certainly less aggressive than Angostura or other modern aromatic bitters on the market, these have a subtle herbal quality with a hint of grapefruit in them.  Try these in some of Professor Jerry Thomas’ recipes which call for Boker’s and see what you think.  GSN Rating: A-

Issan Another Level Bitters – Just reading the label ingredients made me wonder what in the world they were smoking when they came up with this recipe.  It sounds like an Asian market: ginger, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaf, bird’s eye chili, fish sauce and soy sauce are just some of the ingredients used.  However, the flavor is not what I expected, being more about heat than anything else.  Not that these are volcanic, but they do have a fresh ginger-like kick with an unusual flavor that I can only describe as umami.  When you’re looking for a touch of the unusual, these bitters will do it for you.  GSN Rating: B+

Krangostura Bitters- I can’t imagine a certain Trinidadian company letting this particular name continue without a legal suit.  Bitters, Old Men say that they are named after a villain from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic series.  We’ll see.  Aside from that, these are very much in line with other aromatic bitters, although softer and will work quite well in any cocktail calling for them.  GSN Rating: A-

Papaya Bitters – These are very subtle and fruity.  Yes, they taste like papaya, but I think they would get lost in a cocktail unless you used a hefty portion of them.  Try with vodka or soju, or use a few drops on top of a drink as a delicate olfactory garnish.   GSN Rating: B-

Prickled Pink Bitters – These have a unique baked vegetal quality similar to sweet potatoes, although the main ingredient is prickly pear cactus.  There is almost an air of Thanksgiving dinner about these.  Try them with cranberry juice based cocktails, agave and mezcal or in an old-fashioned for an extra kick of flavor.  GSN Rating: B+

Roasted Macadamia Bitters – Fee Brothers came out with a Black Walnut bitters last year, which are excellent, but the roasted macadamia nut bitters are quite different.  The flavor is very much forward and present and has a slightly grainy texture.  The taste is quite good and will add a wonderful transcendent quality to any tropical based cocktail.  I think that nut based bitters are going to be the latest trend.  GSN Rating: A+

Smoke Gets In Your Bitters – Not smoked per se, but they include the very smoky Lapsang Souchong tea along with asian pear.  Slightly sweet and quite smoky with a round body.  Another very unusual bitters which has a lot of potential in brown spirit cocktails and tomato based drinks.  Also, these will work well in drinks which call for a hint of Islay scotch for obvious reasons.  The flavor goes on for quite a while.  GSN Rating: A-

Restorative Tonic – Quite dry and with a lot of cinnamon and citrus peel.  You don’t need a lot of this to be “restored”.  I would add about a teaspoon to a small glass of water to quiet an upset stomach, or use a few drops in place of an aromatic bitters.  GSN Rating: B

For more information go to: Bitters, Old Men